Like beer, marijuana and oxygen bars, Colorado has quickly developed a subculture of people who like to geek-out on coffee, enjoying the everyday beverage on a level far beyond the utilitarian purpose of a quick stimulant. "We're here to deliver more than just caffeine; that's just a perk," says Ali Elman, co-owner of Black Eye Coffee, which opened last week in LoHi but is closed today to prepare for a grand opening tomorrow (and recover from a private party this past weekend).
"We're going to ruin people's palates to the point where they won't be able to take a sip of Folgers or Starbucks," adds Gregory Ferrari, also of Black Eye. "Once they discover there's something better out there, they won't be satisfied with other coffees."
If you think coffee is just coffee, and consume it with the single-mindedness of a drunk with his Five O' Clock Vodka, then Black Eye Coffee probably isn't the place for you.
Walking into the old brick building on Navajo Street, customers are initially faced with the chemistry lab aesthetic of a pour-over station, a minimalist operation for brewing single cups at a time that the owners of Black Eye believe is integral to their standard of coffee drinking. "Coffee has a brief shelf life," explains Ferrari. "If you have a coffee that's brewed thirty minutes ago, it will change, the taste will flatten. So if you're really into tasting all the nuances of a coffee, it's important for that cup to be as fresh as possible."
Rather than offer numerous options like a Starbucks or Dazbog, Black Eye is more interested in curating a beverage experience for its patrons, offering a rotating option of four types of coffee at a time, which gives the operation more of an art gallery ethos rather than service industry.
And so far, the neighborhood has responded enthusiastically to this approach. "People have been coming back the next day to try a different pour-over," says Dustin Audet, the third co-owner of Black Eye. "They'll have the Burundi, then come back the next day for the Sweet Yellow Brazil, then Ethiopan Yirgacheffe, and they compare the differences. They can learn what they like, and be educated why they like what they like. It's like getting into wine."
Still, Elman is quick to point out that an academic mindset is not essential for anyone walking into Black Eye: "If you don't know everything about the coffee, that's okay. People still come in and have their favorites, you don't have to know the flavor profile to enjoy it."
While a cup of Black Eye coffee may take a little longer and cost a little more than at Starbucks, Ferrari maintains that a decent cup of coffee must be grown, roasted and brewed with specific care to the environment in which it's served, which the big S just doesn't do. "They're everywhere, and they want consistency in their stores all around the world," he points out. "You can get the same cup of coffee in Japan as here in America. And it's all the same charcoal, campfire taste."
You can see the literal distaste the owners of Black Eye have for this type of coffee making. It might come off as snobby, if their intimate understanding of coffee weren't so evident -- as is the pleasure they take in serving a beverage that meets their high standards. At Black Eye, it's important that the beans are roasted at elevation and brewed at a higher temperature than most local shops (also because of elevation), that their syrups are made in-house, and that every cup is free of any artificial flavors and non-fair trade beans.
Using local products is also a Black Eye standard, with the pastries coming from Beet Box and Trompeau Bakery and their teas from Teatulia (all three located in Denver), while the beans are purchased from Boxcar Coffee Roasters, a Boulder operation.
The Black Eye's flavors of coffee (or "varieties," as the owners call them; they hate the word "flavors" because of the artificial connotations it carries) will be switched out every two weeks, giving aspiring coffee aficionados the chance to regularly update their knowledge of coffees around the world. "Coffee has changed a lot in the last fifteen years," says Ferrari, "to the point where people know what region of Ethiopia the coffee comes from just by tasting it. People in the United States who don't know shit about geography can tell you what part of the world the coffee came from just by its flavor profile.
"Coffee is not just a caffeinated beverage," he continues. "It's a cultural experience. It's your daily ritual. It's a way to be social; a way to escape from work. It's so many things, and that's why the environment you have it in is so important."
After today, Black Eye Coffee will be open every weekday from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit www.drinkblackeye.com
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.